Chao Xiong, Star Tribune, April 9, 2018
Albert Loehlein made wine from grapes grown in his backyard in Anoka, logged his own trees for the fireplace and made rugs with his mother’s loom set up in the basement.
At 95, he could barely see or hear, but wished to live independently in the home he bought in 1945. It was there that he and his wife, Hannah, raised six children. Loehlein cared for Hannah there as she succumbed to cancer several years ago.
Isaiah M. Thomas lived six blocks away. Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, Thomas crept into the WWII veteran’s home, beat him to death with a flashlight and a clock that he pawned for $22.50. On Monday, he was sentenced to life in prison, with a chance of parole after 30 years.
Loehlein’s children urged the court to lock Thomas away for life. Thomas and his attorney, Caroline Durham, argued that prejudice had unfairly burdened Thomas his whole life. Thomas is black. Loehlein was white.
“I apologize in all honesty and sincerity,” Thomas said before launching into a five-minute speech about poverty and discrimination.
Thomas, 28, pleaded guilty in March to first-degree murder with intent for killing Loehlein. As part of the plea agreement, one count of premeditated first-degree murder was dismissed, sparing him a mandatory sentence of life without the chance of parole. One count of second-degree murder also was dismissed.
Thomas said Monday that his behavior was not coldblooded, but rather an act of “warm-blooded, long, deep misplaced anger” directed toward a man who represented other men who had victimized him and his peers.
When given an opportunity to speak, Durham asked the court and those in attendance to reflect on Thomas’ experience as a black man.
“Did they think, ‘There’s one of my neighbors?’ ” she said of Thomas’ life in Anoka. “If we as a society fail to embrace the day-to-day that he has lived, then we have failed as a society.”
Thomas said he has watched people get “gunned down” and witnessed blacks suffer at the hands of police.
“We had everything we needed,” Thomas’ sister said of their upbringing.
Thomas’ criminal history includes four burglary convictions. Assistant Anoka County Attorney Wade Kish said in a court filing that Thomas had allegedly assaulted three correctional officers and three inmates while in custody.
He has not been charged in those incidents.